Hollywood & Veterans Join Forces On Panel


By Debbie Gregory.

Recently the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) hosted a panel discussion of how veterans entering the film and TV industry can help bridge the military-civilian gap in society.

Prominent actors, executive producers and industry executives gathered at Paramount Studios, joined by some 300 military veterans who are both in and entering the film industry. Many of the veterans in the room were aspiring actors, writers, and directors.

The military-civilian divide is well documented, as 84 percent of post-9/11 veterans believe that the American public has no understanding of the challenges facing this generation of veterans and military families.  More than almost any other story-telling medium, the television and film industry can play a powerful and enduring role in shaping the cultural narrative that will come to define this group of veterans, and tell the stories of the Iraq and Afghanistan generation of veterans.

The panel of experts included Contessa Brewer (moderator), Syracuse University alum and NBC reporter, actor and veteran J.R. Martinez, NCIS Executive Producer Scott Williams, and David Gale, CEO of We Are The Mighty and former President of MTV Films.

The panel also encouraged the veterans to seek out other mediums, including YouTube, webisodes, documentaries, and Snapchat.

Scott Williams shared that the NCIS crew has around 100 veterans working as grips, camera operators, and in construction.

Wounded warrior, motivational speaker and Dancing With the Stars winner J.R. Martinez, who got his acting break playing Brot Monroe on All My Children, explained it’s important to get past the uniform and see the human being. “A veteran is more than a veteran. A veteran is a son, daughter, father, mother, sister, brother. There are dangers in stereotyping; we need to understand who they are as a person.”

Another theme is how Hollywood needs to change how it thinks of military veterans.  “Right now veterans are used as advisors on specific projects,” said Gale.

The IVMF endeavors to advance the post-service lives of America’s veterans and their families. IVMF’s professional staff delivers unique and innovative programs in career, vocations, and entrepreneurship education and training to post 9/11 veterans and active duty military spouses, as well as tailored programs to veterans of all eras.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.


Military Connection: A Story of Triumph


By Debbie Gregory.

In 2003, nineteen-year-old Private Jose Rene (J.R.) Martinez was on a routine patrol in Iraq, when the Humvee he was driving hit an anti-tank mine. J.R. sustained severe injuries and burns on his face and over one-third of his body. But out of that horrifying tragedy came a journey of inspiration and motivation.

J.R.’s career path has been incredible, and perhaps even a bit improbable. A high school football player from a small town in Georgia, J.R. was the only son of a single working mother who emigrated from El Salvador. When his hopes of playing college football fell through, he joined the Army.

J.R. was proud to serve. In September of 2002, J.R. underwent Basic and Advanced Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he gained skills as an 11-B Infantryman. After reporting to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in January of 2003, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.

That’s where J.R.’s life was changed. Forever. He was only one month into that first deployment , when the front tire of his Humvee made contact with that roadside bomb. J.R. was trapped inside. Fighting for his life, he was evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany, for immediate care. He then spent nearly three years recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC/SAMC) in San Antonio, Texas

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, which he did for a while, J.R. ran with the opportunity to reinvent his life. His first small step was to speak to another young burn victim. J.R. realized how valuable and gratifying it was to share his experiences with other patients, and listen to theirs. This calling led him to motivational speaking engagements, acting gigs, and winning the coveted “Mirror Ball” on Dancing With the Stars.

Follow J.R.’s journey in his new book, Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength, and Spirit.

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Military Connection: A Story of Triumph: By Debbie Gregory